Coming of age in exile - health and socio-economic inequities in young refugees in the nordic welfare societies (CAGE)


During the past decades, refugee immigration has changed the societal weave of the Nordic welfare states. The life prospects of these new Nordic citizens is a broad societal concern. The CAGE project aimed at investigating inequalities in education, labour market participation, and health during the formative years in young refugees, and how they relate to national policies and other contextual factors. The project was divided into three studies with focus on education, labour market participation and health.

  1. Comparative analysis of welfare politics in the Nordic countries
  2. Comparative register studies of national cohorts with young refugees
  3. Qualitative studies of education and labour market participation

The project started July 2015 and ended December 2020



The results of the CAGE register studies demonstrated inequalities among young refugees relative to native-born majority populations with regard to education, labour market participation, and health in all four Nordic countries.


With regard to education policies, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have provided equal rights to education for all children, while asylum-seekers in Denmark have been excluded from entitlements to upper secondary education.

In terms of educational outcomes, refugee children in all four countries overall had lower educational achievements than the native-born majority population, but with great heterogeneity within the refugee population. In the cross-country comparison, refugee children in Denmark and Finland had the lowest educational achievements, while those in Sweden tended to have the highest, but with the largest differences by age of arrival.Schools and teachers had varying, and sometimes insufficient, knowledge and competence of how to relate appropriately to the diverse group of refugee students and their multifaceted educational and psychosocial needs.

Labour Market

The Nordic countries have, in their labour market policy, taken slightly different approaches in targeted active labour market measures to integrate refugees and other immigrants into the labour market, yet all four countries connect immigration and asylum policies to labour market integration. In terms of labour market participation, young refugees had a more disadvantaged labour market position at ages 25 and 30 relative to their native-born majority peers. Between countries, refugees in Denmark had the greatest relative disadvantage in labour market participation in comparison with the native-born majority population.


National policies for health reception of asylum-seekers and refugees exist in all four countries. Denmark has the largest focus on refugee mental health upon arrival, but at the same time, Denmark is the only Nordic country that does not have national policy legislation, which explicitly states that asylum-seeking children are entitled to healthcare services on an equal footing with Danish children.

Regarding health indicators, young male refugees in all four countries generally had a worse health status compared to the majority population, while big differences were not observed between female refugees and the majority women. Especially male refugees stood out with a consistent pattern of higher risks for external cause mortality, disability/illness pension, outpatient psychiatric care, substance abuse, and psychotropic drug use compared with female refugees and the male native-born majority in Denmark.

A qualitative study demonstrated the unique positive role of child health nurses as actors in the Danish asylum system, as they have managed to reach families through tailored, coherent, and empowering relationships. On the other hand, the study described the everyday struggles of asylum-seeking families to maintain the positive parenting practices encouraged by the nurses in a context with limited material resources and crowded housing with little space for family intimacy.

Unaccompanied Refugee Minors

A register study of unaccompanied refugee minors in Norway and Sweden showed a consistently disadvantaged pattern of their life trajectories compared with accompanied refugee minors. This pattern was seen for indicators of severe mental health problems, educational outcomes, and being in NEET (not in education, employment or training) at age 30.


Find the final CAGE report here

Find the list of all CAGE’s publications here



Coming of Age in Exile (CAGE) was a multidisciplinary research project, led by the Danish Research Centre for Migration, Ethnicity and Health (MESU) at the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen and carried out in collaboration with partners from Norway, Sweden and Finland.

The steering committee consisted of PI, Allan Krasnik, the project administratorJanne Sørensenand the team leaders, namely:


Centre for Migration, Ethnicity og Health (MESU), University of Copenhagen

Teamleader: Signe Smith Jervelund


Migration Institute of Finland

Teamleader: Elli Heikkilä



Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies

Teamleader: Lutine de WalPastoor


University College of Southeast Norway

Teamleader: KetilEide



Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS), Stockholm Universitet

Teamleder: Anders Hjern 

Who has funded the project?

CAGE was funded by the Nordic Research Council (NordForsk).

 Expected start and end date:

The project started July 2015 and was completedDecember 2020.


Contact persons

Allan Krasnik,

Signe Smith Jervelund,

Janne Sørensen,